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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The UK’s Controversial Plans to Build the Cumbria Coal Mine...

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: The UK’s controversial plans to build the Cumbria coal mine despite plans to host G7 Summit later this year.

Climate activists patiently await the outcome of Cumbria County Council’s review of plans to create a new coal mine in the region. Following backlash, the UK government announced that although the final decision is to be made by the local authorities, Westminster will intervene as (or if) necessary. An inquiry into the plans will be held in order to aid the council with this decision. If approved, this coal mine has the potential to cause irreparable damage to our planet.

In the past, Britain has set an extraordinary example by closing their last deep coal mine in 2015, so what could lead authorities to take such a giant leap backwards? As usual, the answer is money. Supporters of the pending project claim it will create over 500 jobs in the local area.¹ Currently, the UK relies on imported coal largely from the US and Russia in order to meet economic demands. West Cumbria Mining Company argues that the mine will cut out the carbon footprint left by the transport of imported coal, conveniently excluding that it will compensate for that loss through exports, as 85% of the coal would subsequently end up being exported.² The remaining 15% of the coal will be burned as a part of the steel manufacturing process. Unfortunately, coal burning is still needed in steel production as cleaner technologies are still being developed. As the proud founders of the “Powering Past Coal” alliance, the UK can under no circumstances justify a return to the mines while still claiming to be allies of the cause; There is simply no room for such hypocrisy in the fight for climate justice.

This June, the UK will be hosting the annual G7 summit where world leaders will gather to discuss a joint plan of action for tackling the climate crisis. The event will take place in sunny Cornwall: a county which boasts pristine beaches and biodiverse wildlife. Guests will be far from Britain’s many not-long abandoned coal mines and fuel-guzzling power stations, which dot our horizons. While some have welcomed the decision as a celebration of the regions eco-accomplishments, others see it as the government yet again deflecting from the ugly truth.

“Cornwall is the perfect location for such a crucial summit. Two hundred years ago Cornwall’s tin and copper mines were at the heart of the UK’s industrial revolution and this summer Cornwall will again be the nucleus of great global change and advancement. I’m very much looking forward to welcoming world leaders to this great region and country.”³ -The Prime Minister’s statement regarding the location of the upcoming G7 Summit

Earlier this year, the government announced that ministers would be required to give climate considerations and economic considerations equal weight when implementing new policies. Yet, history dictates that time and time again, the latter will prevail. In all likelihood, the plans will not receive approval. Nonetheless, it is crucial that organisations and climate activists continue to draw attention to such plans so as to ensure accountability. Too often the government makes empty promises about its commitment to decarbonisation and it is our job as a community and as citizens of this Earth to hold them to their word.

If the UK is to decarbonise its economy in the near future, short-sighted plans such as this need to be scrapped. It is time to close the chapter of British coal and move forward. Investing in green technologies means new jobs, new industries and a reduction on the inevitable and costly bill that is climate change.

¹ R Harrabin, “Cumbria coal mine: What is the controversy about?” (BBC News, 1 March 2021) <> 21 March 2021

² Harrabin (n 1)

³ Prime Minister’s Office, “UK to host G7 Summit in Cornwall” (Prime Minister’s Office. 10 Downing Street, 23 January 2021)<> 21 March 2021

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